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Top military commanders in Hawaii get — and promote — coronavirus vaccine

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                                Col. Rudolph Cachuela, PACAF Command Surgeon, receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the 15th Medical Group, Hickam AFB on Wednesday.


    Col. Rudolph Cachuela, PACAF Command Surgeon, receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the 15th Medical Group, Hickam AFB on Wednesday.

Military brass in Hawaii have been rolling up their sleeves to get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine as part of an early “prioritized” list — with some publicizing the injections to convince the rank and file of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine when it becomes more widely available.

Early indicators are that some additional convincing may be in order for the vaccine that initially is voluntary for the military because it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an “Emergency Use Authorization.”

Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on Oahu, and Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Shorter, its senior enlisted leader, posted a video to twitter Monday taken inside and outside of Tripler Army Medical Center.

“I just received the Pfizer COVID vaccine,” Davidson said. “So grateful to the Tripler Army Medical Center and their immunization team who delivered the shots today. Listen everyone, I was really thrilled to get the vaccination, and I’ll be back in three weeks to get the second shot as well.”

Col. Rudolph Cachuela, the Pacific Air Forces surgeon, was pictured on that command’s twitter page getting his vaccination last week from the 15th Medical Group at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Tripler held a news conference last week to discuss the rollout of its initial shipment of vaccine — which is targeted mainly to health care providers.

Col. Ingrid Lim, deputy commander for medical services at Tripler, said, “We have well over 50% of the folks volunteering to receive the vaccine, and we run from ecstatic and excited and can’t wait to those who are, you know, it’s just another vaccine.”

The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System headquartered in Honolulu said it would be inoculating its “frontline staff” first and conducted a survey to see how many were willing to take the vaccine.

“We have about 1,400 employees and about 800 have responded to the survey and about half of the responses are they are willing to receive the vaccine,” Amy Rohlfs, a VA spokeswoman, told Hawaii Public Radio.

A recent University of Hawaii Public Policy Center report, based on a post-election November survey of 616 respondents statewide, found that only 44% plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available.

The UH report said that 37% are still unsure about the vaccine, while the number of residents who said they will definitely get the inoculation declined by 7% since the center’s August 2020 survey.

Men were more likely to say that they would definitely get the vaccine (54%) compared to women (34%), according to the survey.

The U.S. government said 2.9 million initial doses were delivered last week by Pfizer and this week, about 7.9 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are expected to be distributed.

“I look forward to receiving this vaccine myself in the coming days as part of our efforts to demonstrate to Americans that these vaccines are safe and incredibly effective at preventing COVID-19,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a news conference Monday.

Tripler, which supports a “beneficiary population” of more than 140,000, said it received a single-box shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine last Tuesday. The Pentagon has said the vaccine goes out in batches of 975 doses. Tripler said it could not reveal the number of doses it received due to operational security concerns, but characterized the shipment as a “small amount.”

Intensive care unit, emergency room and urgent care personnel, first responders and inpatient and outpatient health delivery and support personnel are the first individuals being vaccinated by the military in Hawaii.

Tripler is the “hub” for Pfizer vaccine delivery and has been distributing doses to the 15th Medical Group and Naval Health Clinic Hawaii at the joint base, as well as to the Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic at Schofield Barracks, said Tripler spokeswoman Mackenzie Walsh.

Naval Health Clinic Hawaii is responsible for distributing vaccine to the Marines — who took a shipment to Kaneohe Bay and conducted vaccinations Monday. Coast Guard “critical employees” including medical officers and search and rescue, are being scheduled at Tripler for vaccinations, Walsh said.

Tripler has not received any follow-on vaccine shipments, she said. Hospital commander Col. Martin Doperak noted last week that the VA shares space on the Tripler campus and “they are a wonderful partner with us,” but in terms of the vaccine, “their logistics system is separate from ours.”

The VA said Hawaii would get the Moderna vaccine this week, but spokesperson Armenthis Lester declined to answer what day, how many doses, when it would start vaccinating, how it would distribute the vaccine to the neighbor islands, and when any follow-on shipments are expected.

Some VA Pacific Islands Health Care employees in Saipan and Guam have started receiving vaccinations through partnerships with departments of health there.

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